One “Hal-a-vah” Cupcake!

As a presenter at Kosherfest for the Israel pavilion this year, I had to come up with my spin on an Israeli brunch.  I decided to focus on dessert first.  What would I create that no one else has ever done before?  As I was pondering the many delicacies I could put into action, I kept having this image of halvah (a sweet sesame confection) in my head.  That sweet, melt in your mouth, yet dry dessert I tasted in the Jerusalem market place (shuk) so many times!  I couldn’t make halvah though…that would be way to intricate for my demonstration of 5 different dishes in my meager 45 minute time slot.  
Had I ever eaten halvah in any other way than in its pure form?  Yes! Yes I had!
In Israel, around Hannukah, the streets are FILLED with the smell and aroma of sufganiyot (donuts).  They are traditionally made with jelly inside, but there is one special shop in the middle of the city that has the most unusual flavors and fillings one could ever imagine.  I happened upon it one day in the early morning (we’re talking 5 am) on the way to the Western Wall.  The sun was just starting to rise and I smelled something so amazing coming from one of the bakeries.  I peaked my head in and looked at the crazy assortment of unique flavored donuts, one of theme being halvah.  I picked the donut up, paid for it and after one bite I. Was. In. Heaven.  It was silky and sweet and totally worth waking up that early.   
That was my inspiration for this Israeli dessert!  Cupcakes are in no way, shape or form an Israeli dessert, but after all, this was MY take on an Israeli Brunch.  The addition of figs in the vanilla cupcake compliment the halvah nicely and adds a bite of texture.  I also added a bit more halvah to the top and a drizzle of silan (date honey), which happens to be the “honey” when referencing Israel as the “land of milk and honey”.  The halvah frosting is a bit heavy as a filling for the donut, but was great on top of the donut 🙂   


Dried Fig Cupcakes with Halvah Cream Cheese Frosting
(can be made parve or dairy)

Makes 24 mini cupcakes


½ C. Unsalted Butter or Earth Balance,  room temperature
2/3 C. Sugar
3 Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 ½ C. Flour
1 ½ tsp. Baking Powder
¼ tsp. Salt
¼ C. Milk or Almond Milk
½ C. Dried Figs, roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Cream your butter and sugar until light and fluffy,  using electric beaters.   Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture to incorporate each egg before adding the next.  Beat in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients and the milk to the egg/butter mixture alternating in three additions (add in some flour, then some milk, then some flour, then some milk, then the rest of the flour) until combined. Fold in your figs and pour into the muffin cups.  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cupcake comes out clean.

Halvah Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 C. Butter or Earth Balance, room temperature
1/2 C. Cream Cheese or Tofutti Cream Cheese
1 C. Halvah
2-3 C. Powdered Sugar

Pinch of Salt

1 Tbs. Milk or Almond Milk
1 Tbs. Vanilla Extract

Whip the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth.  Mix in the halvah.  Add the powdered sugar and continue to mix until just combined.   Add more  or less depending on desired consistency of icing. Add the salt and  continue to beat until the mixture is smooth.

Mix in the cream and vanilla on medium speed until just incorporated, and then increase to high speed until the icing is soft and fluffy.
Garnish with pistachios, candied pecans, candied walnuts, silan, figs or halva pieces

Sufganiyot (Basic Donut Recipe)
Makes about 20 donuts

1 Packet (1/4 Oz.) Yeast
1 Tbs. Sugar
1/4 C. Warm Water

3/4 C. Almond Milk or Milk
4 C. Flour
1 tsp. Salt
1 Egg
2 Egg Yolks
1/4 C. Sugar
1/3 C. Earth Balance or Butter, melted

Combine the yeast, sugar and water.  Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl add the flour, salt, almond milk yeast mixture, egg, egg yolks, sugar and earth balance.  Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.  Transfer to a clean and floured surface.  Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.  You may add more flour if too sticky.  Let the dough rest in an oiled bowl for 1 hour, covered.  Punch dough down and divide in half.

Lightly flour the clean counter and roll the dough about ½ inch thick.  Cut with a drinking glass or cookie cutter and place on parchment paper.  Let rise for 45 minutes. 

Add 3 inches of oil to deep fryer and heat oil to 350 – 365 degrees F. over medium heat.

Cooking in small batches, carefully add donuts to hot oil. Fry 1 minute per side until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer donuts to wire rack or paper towel to cool.  Fill or ice the top with desired filling.

Enjoying the original halvah sufganiyot!

I Flip My Turkey in the Air?!?!

As most of you know, Chanukah is just around the corner, but this year the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars converge to give us Thanksgivukkah (or as some are calling it Chanksgiving)!  The Jewish festival of lights and the American holiday for giving thanks haven’t coincided since President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and apparently won’t happen again till the year 79811. 

The much loved Jewish acapella group, the Maccabeats have incorporated this once in a lifetime Judeo-American mash-up into their new Hannukah Video a cover of Ellie Goulding’s ‘Burn’, which I must say is another truly fantastic production.  Yours truly, team AliBabka, was responsible for all the delicious food and the wonderful table scape for the video.  In order to fulfill Uri Westrich’s cinematic vision, we set a classic American Thanksgiving table, with a bit of traditional Chanuka fixins mixed in. The Menu is as Follows:
Maple Glazed Turkey (coming out of the oven)
Whiskey Maple Gravy
Green Beans Almondine (getting a sprinkle of toasted Almonds)
Oven Roasted Wild Carrots
Classic Potato Latkes
Spiced Cinnamon Apple Sauce
Fresh Cranberry Relish with an Orange Ginger Twist
Joburg Sausage, Roasted Chestnut Stuffing with Figs
Pumpkin Pie topped with whipped Cream and Candied Pecans
Basket of Herbed Artisan Rolls
Thanks to all The Maccabeats and to Uri Westrich for allowing us to cater and be a part of this video.

I am sharing with you two recipes from the video:

Chestnut, Fig and Sasauge Stuffing.  (posted last week)

– Green Beans Almondine (below)

Check out some of the behind the scenes pics!  


Green Beans Almondine
1 lb. Fresh Green Beans, trimmed
1/4 C. Slivered Almonds, toasted
2 Shallots, sliced thin
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
In a pot, bring 1 inch of water to a gentle simmer and add green beans.  Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the green beans turn a bright green color.  Remove green beans and shake off excess water.  In a pan or wok, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and bring to a high heat.  Add green beans and saute for about 1-2 minutes, tossing with salt and pepper.  Transfer green beans to a serving plate and add another 1 Tbs. of olive oil to the pan.  Saute’ shallots till translucent, season with salt and pepper, and pour on top of the green beans.  To finish, sprinkle toasted almonds on top.

The Hybrid Holiday

Whenever I hear the word Thanksgivukah, I can’t help but think of other food word combinations like Grapple (Grape and Apple) and Plumcot (Plum and Apricot).  In honor of our hybrid holiday, I decided to make a hybrid dish.  May I introduce to you….The Pumpkeetotake!

Pumpkeetotake with Craisin Goat Cheese
1 Large Sweet Potato, grated
1 Red Onion, grated
1 Egg
1/2 C. Pumpkin Puree
1/2 C. Potato Starch
1/2 C. Pecans, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Goat Cheese
Craisins (or any dried fruit: apricots, cherries, fig, etc.)
Maple Syrup

Mix together the sweet potato, onion, egg, pumpkin, starch, pecans and salt and pepper till combined.  Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan on medium high heat.  Take a golf size ball of sweet potato mixture in your hand and flatten it out. The flatter the pancake the crispier it will be.  Put the pancake carefully in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on one side and flip to the other side for another 2-3 minutes, till crispy and golden brown.  Transfer pancakes to a paper towel.
In a separate bowl, mix together the craisins and goat cheese.  Top each pancake with a bit of the goat cheese mixture and a drizzle of maple syrup. Eat warm.

This Stuffing Is Stuffing

I rarely make stuffing, but on Thanksgiving, just like the turkey, eating stuffing is basically an obligation.  While I was pulling ingredients out of my fridge and freezer to make my sausage and chestnut stuffing, I noticed a package of dried figs.  That is exactly what my stuffing needed…figs!  This stuffing is extremely savory and has awesome flavor from the seared sausages and creamy chestnuts, but the figs give it that bite of sweet and pulls this dish together.


Chestnut, Fig and Sausage Stuffing
1 Pound (8 Cups) White Bread (preferably a day old), crust trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Pound Roasted Packaged Chestnuts
1 Pound Jo-Burg Boerewors Traditional Sausage, cut on a bias into ½ inch pieces
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Onions, finely chopped
2 Celery Stalks, small dice
2 Carrots, small dice
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 C. Dry White Wine
1/2 C. Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1/2 C. Dried Figs, sliced thin
1 Tbs. Dried Thyme
1 Tbs. Dried Sage
2 Tbs. Fresh Parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 Eggs, lightly beaten

Cut up the bread and put in bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large sauté pan over medium heat, sauté sausage until brown (7-10 minutes).  No need to add oil because the heat will extract the natural fat from the sausages.  Removes sausages and place in the bowl with the bread, keeping the fat from the sausages in the pan.  Add the 1 Tbs. of oil to the pan.  Sauté onions, carrots and celery until soft. 1 minute before the vegetable done, add the garlic.  Remove the vegetable and pour them into the bread and sausage mixture.  

Remove the pan from the stove and add the wine to the pan.  Place the pan back on the stove and scrape up any brown bits from bottom. Cook over medium heat until wine is reduced by half.  Add to bread mixture.

Add the stock to bread mixture; toss. Add figs, thyme, sage, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs. 
Place the stuffing in a grease 9X13 baking dish or 1-9 inch round baking dish.  Cover with foil.  Bake 30 minutes; remove foil.  Bake until golden brown, about 25 more minutes.


The sausages I used in this stuffing are JoBurg kosher sausages.  They are made of pure beef and have an incredible flavor!  Click here to buy them and be directed to their website!



It’s Shakshuka Time!

Besides for the name sounding like some sort of funky dance move, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Israeli food is always shakshuka!  The chunky tomato base (yet sometimes smooth) is the perfect accompaniment to the poached egg nestled inside.  Just like chicken soup, each shakshuka is an ancestral dish.  Every Israeli family has their own recipe passed down from generation to generation. 

On a side note, there is actually a place in Israel called Dr. Shakshuka.  All they serve there is, you guessed it, shakshuka (and bread of course, to wipe up the extra tomato goodness on the bottom of the pan).

Since I am not Israeli, I relied on my Israeli in-laws and husband to guide me in the right direction!  I had to have yellow pepper and fresh tomatoes!  I added the cumin to give it more of a Middle Eastern flair and the tomato paste was to showcase the deep rich tomato flavor.  I hope you like my newfound “ancestral” recipe! 


Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Onion, sliced thinly
½ Red Bell Pepper, deseeded and sliced thinly
½ Yellow Bell Pepper, deseeded and sliced thinly
3 Garlic Cloves, sliced thinly
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Paprika
4 Fresh Large Tomatoes, medium dice
1 4 Oz. Can Tomato Paste
Salt and Pepper to taste
1-½ C. Crumbled Feta
6 Eggs
Optional: Feta, Cilantro, Parsley, Jalapenos, Hot Sauce, Pita Bread, Hummus  

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and bell peppers, and cook until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so until fragrant (don’t burn).  Stir in the spices and cook another minute.  Pour in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper, and let simmer for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Gently crack in the eggs evenly around the pan over the sauce. Top them with a little more salt and pepper, cover with foil and simmer until the eggs are just set, about 10 minutes. Serve with any of the optional add-in’s.

Whisky Jewbilee 2013

Guest Post: Matan Gütwaks

This year I approached the Whisky Jewbilee with a different view than last year. Though I readily admit that I may maintain a slight wetness behind the ear when it comes to the many varieties of whiskey, scotch and spirits out there, I have spent this year enjoying many a dram attempting to refine my palate and ascertain my specific preferences.  My thirst to learn more greatened my anticipation for this years show and I’m glad to report that Jewish WhiskyCompany did not disappoint.

I shall start with the food because it is what I know best! Chef Ari White and his Gemstone Caterers, once again presented a fantastic feast, such a smorgasbord of delicious dishes that I could spend the rest this of the post discussing.   I started off with some fine caviar and herrings and slowly made my way over the course of the evening through the salads chulents, and kugels. The highlight, I must say, was the hard salami topped with Chef Ari’s awesome chopped liver.  My only disappointment was that the homemade jerky went so fast that I only managed to taste it when a friendly member of the tribe shared some; it was delicious and paired nicely with the Bowmore Small Batch Reserve we tasted.

Besides for fine food, whisky has been enjoyed alongside a good cigar for countless years.  Keeping with that long standing tradition, the folks at De La Concha Smoking Lounge and Tobacconists presented a fine sampling of cigars to be smoked with ones drink. I enjoyed the Churchill style Hoja De Flores.  Its Dominican leaves provided quite a nice medium to full bodied smoke and was great with the FourRoses bourbon I was drinking at that moment.

I must point out before I continue, that there were so many great tasting whiskys at the show that it saddens me I can’t write about all of them. It is really an event that you must experience for yourself. I will share with you some of the things that peaked my interest.

This year I was introduced to the delicious tastes of Islay, which literally means island and as its name implies is an Island located off the western coast of Scotland. It is a region of Scotland with, I believe, eight distilleries and a distinct type of peat. One of the fantastic Scotches from this region is Laphroiag, with its excellent peaty flavor reminiscent of the sea. This I learned comes from the layer of seaweed that is in the peat and when burned transfers its aroma into the barley. We actually got to taste some of this barley at the show; its taste provided a flavor much like the scotch it would eventually produce.  However one of the major flavoring components is the wood it’s aged in, which was evident in one of my favorites of the evening, Laphroig’s Triple Wood. It starts of in bourbon casks, moves on to a quarter cask, and looses its ruff edges in a sherry cask, giving it a splendid woody and smooth flavor, a definite must have!
Smoking the Islay Peat

I have come to have a great respect for scotch, but at the end of the day still fancy my self more of a bourbon drinker.  I therefor found myself moseying of to Four Roses for a treat of bourbon.  I myself am partial to the Small batch and it was a great treat and surprise to try Four Rose’s 125th anniversary 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch. A beautifully spicy bourbon truly exquisite with hints of vanilla and cherry, slightly woody mixed with all that the classic four roses flavor topped with hints of maple and a delicious long finish. It was awesome to be poured a glass because it as of yet has not been released in New York and like I mentioned before it was great along side my cigar. 

A few of my other favorites from this year were:

Brennne single malt whiskey from France, an elegant and charming whiskey, with hints of toasted caramel, spice, and fruit combining a complex array of flavors experienced quite subtly on the tongue, a true testament to the French culinary legacy.


Koval one of my favorites from last year was there again this year, this time with a sleek new rebranded bottle. 


Highland Park featured Loki, part of their Valhalla Collection. Fittingly named for the Norse god of mischief, this Scotch has out of this world flavor, with hints of sweet and sour apples, cinnamon spice, and some smoked hickory in the finish.


Last, but certainly not least, the hosts of this show, Single Cask Nation, showcased there own new and delicious line of scotches. First, I revisited the Arran 12, the BenRiach 17, and the Kilchomon 4.  They were just as good as they were last year. New this year was the Laphroig 6 which captured that sea breeze aroma that I now have come to expect of anything with Laphroig on its lable. It had some slowly building flavors that climaxed with hints of smoked citrus and fruit. The other two of the new bottles from this Jewish Whiskey Company are both delightfully sweet and fruity. The Dalmore 12 was relaxed and creamy, with flavors that traveled from hints of cherry and black berry transverse into a warm finish that made me quiet content. Lastly, I will finish off with the Glen Moray 12 because if there is anything that made me feel like I was enjoying a great dessert it was this Scotch. This golden nectar, starts off as a decadent sweet bread pudding, transforms into a spiced berry compote and ends off magically as a Crème Brule.


As you might have guessed by now, I had a remarkable evening with my wife at my side.  I look forward to great things at next years event.